Archive for September, 2011

Identifying right format critical for success of World Series Hockey

The success of sport in the modern context is majorly dependent on one factor; it’s friendliness as a television property.  The sporting disciplines that have survived and prospered in the modern entertainment world are the ones that have modified and tweaked themselves to the need of the contemporary television audience.  The tweaking could be in many ways such as, scoring systems (as seen in badminton, Table tennis, Volleyball), format of the game (Rugby codes, Cricket formats) et al.

Sports federations’ needs to understand in which category of sport its sporting discipline operates in! Whether it belongs to the ‘mass sport’ category or if it is a niche sport?  Niche sports are soaked in tradition and have a small but fiercely loyal fan base- e.g. Golf, Wimbledon (tennis) and Test Cricket.  In such sporting disciplines or tournaments the aim is to maintain the traditions, any aberration to it will result in antagonizing the consumers of the sport.  On other hand are mass products to be successful have to always look for sizable numbers. All their viewers (actual & potential) can be categorized into heavy users (loyal fanatic), medium users (high level of interest), Light users (sporadically follow the game) and Media users (not necessarily exclusive users & majority of them follow other sources of media entertainment, along with sport).

The numbers usually come from the light users and the media users and as defined above, they are not necessarily loyal and have to be coaxed from other sources of entertainment. There is no doubt that hockey belongs to the ‘mass sport’ category and will have to compete with other sporting disciplines and other entertainment avenues, to garner their share of spectators & viewers.

 

Hockey In its Present avatar – it is very important to understand that a majority section of the consumers (growing up in the 1990s and 2000s), have never played the game and have followed it sporadically. This differentiates the prospective WSH consumer from say an IPL or ICL consumer. The first set of consumers will be the ones following European football & other ball sports; in turn will invariably draw comparisons between our national game and the globally known beautiful game.  Hockey is a sport that is faster, especially the astro turf version, as compared to Football. This makes it sometimes slightly difficult to pick the ball and action on television. Also a smaller playing surface makes eleven players per side, look a congested sport. So  what is the solution?

 

WSH should adopt the RIC Charlesworth shorter hockey format-Every Hockey fan across the globe knows Ric Charlesworth.  For the uninitiated Charlesworth is a former great hockey player, a world champion both as a coach and player. One of the sharpest brains in the game of hockey: Charlesworth has developed a format where the number of players will be reduced to eight or seven, relax the ‘carried foul’ rule – which technically will make the game more attacking, faster & free flowing.  The first tournament with this format will be held in Australia in October, exactly two months before the proposed start of the first edition of the WSH. It is imperative for the promoters & organizers of WSH to inspect and adopt this format for its league.  Imagine if IPL was played in the ODI format or the tests format! Would it have met with the same success? Your answer determines the importance for WSH in tweaking field hockey from its present avatar to make it a successful mass-sport & television friendly product.

 

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World Series Hockey will Change Landscape of Indian Sports

Having followed, worked and written for cricket leagues, I am most enthused with the latest initiation by the Nimbus sports group with the World Series Hockey.  With the opening of the Indian economy and exposure to global sport –one is a little bewildered by the fact that India still remains a single sport nation in terms of sports disciplines with mass following. Yes there are niche sports like Tennis, golf, F1 et al, which are showing growth: however with a neo-rich clientele, their mass appeal is restricted! What Indian sport badly needs, is a sport on the lines of ball sports (soccer in Europe, American football in US and Rugby in Australia and South Africa) -middle class, athletic, fast paced and devoid of an entry barrier, for the common man to pursue. 

The identification of that fast paced sport boils down to none other than India’s national game- HOCKEY.

Why Hockey?  If one identifies other potential sporting disciplines with mass appeal, the ones that come to mind are volleyball and football! However and more so unfortunately, both these disciplines do not have the Indians standards on par at world standards. Despite the growing popularity of football in our country, one needs to understand that the popularity & following exists for European or world cup football and not the Indian version, which is still some years away from achieving top global standards. That boils down the identification of a sporting discipline other than cricket, with pan India potential; boiling down to Hockey. A rich history, coupled with a contemporary Indian team that remains a top ten hockey nation of the world makes Hockey the ideal sport. Additionally the Indian brand of hockey is unique & attractive. The Indian players still are some of the most skillful and right up there with the best in the world.

 

World Series Hockey will formulate Hockey as a career option for the average young sportsman

 

Ever since the launch of the World Series Hockey , an initiative by Nimbus sports with IHF; one sees roadblocks  &  threats from parallel bodies and the FIH ( premiere world body for Hockey).  This is the most unfortunate thing that one could see, to an initiative that goes with the mission statement – Reinvigorating Indian Hockey.  The critics and opponents of this league have been misleading the Indian fan by stating that players have been choosing commercial interests over country.  These people need to understand that alone national passion cannot bring about a following for the game! Despite an adequately large talent pool, the number of kids taking to hockey has diminished.  The major reason for this can be pointed to lack of lucrative commercial & social value in playing the sport. What a player needs is a sport where even if he does not get into the national team: he/she could make a good living, earn a social standing and exhibit his talent to a respectable audience base. This is what league sport does to a sporting discipline! It helps garner larger following, generates decent player-salaries, helps set up job opportunities for support staff, coaches’ et al. Most importantly it encourages a young enthusiast and his family to confidently pursue the game as a career option. This is what IPL has done to cricket and is exactly what WSH will do to Hockey.  For the people at FIH and HI (on war path with IHF) my humble request would be – this initiative will build the brand value of hockey, creating great opportunity for   bi lateral series between nations, delivering unprecedented financial revenues! My advice to FIH and HI is simple, concentrate on international hockey (test series between nations et al) and leave league hockey to nimbus and IHF which will act as a catalyst for your international operations, both in terms of popularity and monetary benefits.

 

 

Why WSH is a far better product as compared to PHL from ESPN – Star

 

Well as ironical as it may seem; comparisons between the PHL, India’s first sports league and WSH is inevitable. However I would like to state and as rightly pointed out by the Nimbus chief Harish Thawani, WSH is building all the right ingredients (home and away, franchisees et al) to make it a complete sports league. The PHL was a half baked job, where the players were fit into different teams as is done is school competitions.  All matches were played at a single or two destinations, taking away the true home and away flavor of league matches. Also important to point with WSH is the induction of franchisees. Multiple owners reduces the capital investment burden and propagates fair & dynamic competition between franchisees, resulting in diversity that sets the true flavor of league sport.

 

In the final analysis this brilliant initiative will transform hockey from an amateur sport to a professional sport. It will change the landscape of Indian sports from a ‘single sport following nation’ to a multi-discipline sporting nation. Hockey today galvanizes the Indian public only once in 4 years during the Olympics. This according to me is a gross injustice to a sport that is our national sport, enjoys a rich legacy & sees us competitive at the highest standards of the game. This is Indian sports’ moment of liberalization. It will bring in riches and social recognition for the sport, its affiliate bodies and players. In turn it will make sport a way of life for a vibrant young population.

I personally believe that WSH has a far more significant role in shaping the future of Indian sport, even more than initiatives like the IPL.  I would urge opinion makers in Indian sport, a vibrant media et al- to take up the cause of WSH as much as they have for cricket and IPL. The benefits for the same will be for all to earn in the long run.

 

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